What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is one of the most problematic conditions one can face, as usually there is no pain associated with it and in more advanced cases, it results in the deterioration of the periodontal ligament and the bone that holds the teeth in the jaw, ultimately resulting in tooth loss.  Red and swollen gums, bleeding while brushing and flossing, bad breath, sensitive teeth, loose teeth and receding gums are some of the symptoms commonly associated with gingivitis and more severe forms of gum disease which we call periodontitis.

Gum disease is caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque which builds daily around the teeth. If the dental plaque is not removed on a regular basis, the bacteria found in the dental plaque release toxins that irritate the gums and stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in the body, by brings blood cells to the infected site to try and remove the bacteria from entering our body.

This inflammatory reaction causes the gums to swell (gingivitis) and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses (periodontitis) the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed which can cause bone loss around the teeth making the teeth become loose, and eventually fall out or have to be removed.

There are two main types of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis: this is the earliest stage of gum disease and can be prevented by daily brushing and flossing to remove the plaque around the teeth. This is a very common disease and causes bleeding during brushing and flossing. At this early stage, damage can be reversed, since the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place have not yet been affected. Untreated Gingivitis can advance to Periodontitis.
  • Periodontitis: at this stage, the ligament fibers that hold your teeth in the bone and the supporting bone are irreversibly damaged, and a deep pocket of more than 3 mm starts to form below the gum line, which traps in more plaque. This makes it harder to clean at home and treatment will require dentist intervention together with improved oral hygiene care to prevent further damage and to stop progress of the periodontal disease. In the final stages of Periodontitis (advanced periodontitis) there is bone loss that can cause the teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect your bite and, if more aggressive gum treatment can’t save them, these teeth will be lost or may need to be removed.

There are many forms of Periodontitis. The most common ones include: Aggressive Periodontitis, Chronic Periodontitis, Periodontitis as a manifestation of systemic diseases, Necrotizing periodontal disease.

Gum Disease Prevention and Treatments

Before the onset of periodontitis, the disease can be contained through proper dental hygiene, a good diet, reducing alcohol and quitting smoking. Please see our article on “Taking care of your teeth” and “How to brush your teeth- a step by step approach” as good oral hygiene is the single most effective way to prevent gum disease. However, in its more advanced stages, you will need the help of a dentist or a periodontist to help remove the bacterial plaque found in the deep pockets where your toothbrush and floss will not be able to reach. In some cases, when the condition has been allowed to progress to its advanced stages, surgery may also be required.

Common Questions About Gum Disease

Q: What causes gum disease? What are the main risk factors of gum disease?

A: The main cause of gum (periodontal disease) is plaque, however other factors will affect the health of your gums such as age, smoking, genetics, stress, medications, clenching of grinding your teeth, other systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, poor nutrition and obesity. Diabetes and smoking are the biggest risk factors for disease development, increased severity, and the speed at which gum disease occurs.

Q: What happens if the disorder goes untreated?

A: As gum disease progresses painlessly the damage it can cause is not always noticeable. However, if left untreated it can lead to gum abscesses and eventually tooth loss. Recent studies also show that periodontitis is linked to increased risk of other systemic diseases such as heart disease (atherosclerosis, myocardial infaction), stroke, diabetes mellitus and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Q: When should I see a periodontist?

A: At the examination appointment we will assess and diagnose if you have any gum disease. Once a full periodontal assessment has been done, our dentists will prescribe the appropriate gum treatment and in some cases a referral to a periodontist is necessary, usually as in the case of more advanced periodontitis being present.

Scheduling a Free Smile Assessment

If you experience any of the symptoms associated with gum disease, it is vitally important that you contact us to schedule an appointment and thorough examination of your soft tissues. We can fully evaluate your periodontal conditions, and if detected in its early stages, you’ll find that gum disease is reversible and preventable.

* Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risk. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.